U.S. updates some answers to lingering questions on new immigration policy for Cubans

Who gets to stay under the Cuban Adjustment Act

Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen explains how a Cuban National can apply for U.S. residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act on Jan. 18, 2016.
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Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen explains how a Cuban National can apply for U.S. residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act on Jan. 18, 2016.

The sudden decision to cancel the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program (CMPP) and eliminate the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has left thousands of Cubans in transit or with pending applications in a limbo.

The White House and the Cuban government have agreed that Cubans who try to enter the United States without a visa will not be admitted and will be subject to expedited removal. Also brought to an immediate halt on Jan. 12 was a program that gave special admission to Cuban medical professionals who had deserted government missions in third countries.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House answered questions from el Nuevo Herald to clarify the impact and enforcement of the new policy:

Does the new agreement affect doctors who have already applied for parole and are currently under review for the CMPP?

“USCIS will not accept and adjudicate any CMPP cases received at U.S. Embassies and Consulates on or after 5:00 p.m. EST on January 12. 2017. However, cases initiated before that time frame will continue to be accepted and adjudicated by USCIS to completion,” said a spokesperson for DHS.

At exactly what time did the application of the new policy start?

DHS only responded that “The Policy was enacted on Thursday, Jan. 12,” without further details. According to reports by relatives of Cuban immigrants, officials at different entry points at the border enforced the new policy at different times that same day.

Activists have denounced that Cuban nationals have been sent back to Cuba from Miami International Airport, even when they came with visas. Are there changes regarding the treatment of Cuban nationals traveling to the U.S. with visas?

The DHS spokeswoman repeated that Cuban nationals with visas will be treated in the same way as other foreigners.

In such cases, the immigration official can determine whether or not they can enter the country, depending on, among other things, an assessment of whether the foreign national would want to remain in the U.S. Cubans maintain the right to seek political asylum.

If a Cuban national seeks entry at the south border, will he or she be sent back to Mexico or to Cuba?

“Like migrants from other countries, Cuban nationals will be subject to expedited removal. The Department of Homeland Security will take steps to repatriate Cubans who are ordered removed and have exhausted their claims for relief. Cuba is obligated to accept the return of its nationals who are ordered removed from the United States,” the DHS said.

At border stations such as Laredo, Texas, Cubans who arrived after the new policy was announced, have been denied entry and have simply been returned to Mexico. Others have applied for asylum and have been detained. There are also reports of Cubans who have initiated an asylum application and have been allowed to suspend it. These Cubans have also left the U.S. for Mexico. Activists and relatives have reported deportations to Cuba from the Miami airport, but this information has not been verified.

On Tuesday, Customs and Border Patrol denied a request from the Miami Herald for a tour of Miami International Airport’s international arrivals Terminal D, to better understand how the airport is now processing Cuban migrants. Migdalia Arteaga, a public affairs officer with CBP, said the Department of Homeland Security is handling Cuban arrivals at MIA for the time being and is denying, along with CBP, any requests for visits to the area.

Will people overstaying their visas (with the aim of adjusting their status under the Cuban Adjustment Act) also be subject to deportation or removal?

The Cuban Granma newspaper was the first to report that “people who legally enter the United States with tourist visas or other [visas], but remain longer than authorized or try to stay irregularly in that country, will be returned to Cuba under the new agreement.”

The White House confirmed this information: “Cubans that come to the United States after Thursday’s announcement are subject to the same immigration policies as anyone from any other country. People with valid papers or visas are eligible to stay; those that arrived after Thursday’s announcement and overstay their tourist visas will be treated like others and be removed.”

However, DHS indicated that if a foreign national stays longer than authorized, he or she becomes “eligible” to be removed.

This does not mean, Miami immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen said, that DHS agents will actively seek to identify and expel Cubans who have stayed beyond the expiration date of their visas.

If a Cuban comes legally to the U.S. with a visa and stays longer than authorized, can he/she adjust their status under the Cuban Adjustment Act?

“If you overstay your visa you are eligible for removal. However, If you are here for a year on a valid visa, until the Cuban Adjustment Act is repealed, Cuban nationals will continue to be able to seek adjustment of status if they have been admitted or paroled into the United States at any time, have been present for at least one year, and are admissible as immigrants,” the DHS spokesperson explained.

The Cuban Adjustment Act does not require the Cuban national to be legally in the country for the whole year but only to have been legally admitted with a visa or parole.

NOTE TO READERS: This story was updated to reflect a correction made by DHS to a previous answer sent to el Nuevo Herald. DHS first responded that it will “no longer give special preference to parole requests made by Cuban nationals — including Cuban medical professionals” with pending applications. On Thursday, DHS said their response was not “entirely correct” and provided an update to the initial answer.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres: @ngameztorres